§ Mr. Chris Davies
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 8, line 40, at end insert—'(7) Subject to the provisions in this section, the local housing authority shall approve an application for grant to make a property fit where the property is occupied by—
- (a) people whose household contains one or more persons with a disability;
- (b) a person who is receiving services or grants for services from the local welfare authority as part of a care package;
- (c) people whose health is being adversely affected by the state of the disrepair of their home; or
- (d) people of pensionable age.'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 102, in page 8, line 40, at end insert—'(6A) In considering whether to approve an application for a renovation grant the authority shall have regard to any existing local housing renewal strategies.'.No. 103, in page 8, line 40, at end insert—'(6A) When determining whether to approve applications for grant aid under this Part local housing authorities shall have regard to the local welfare authority's duties under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and the local community care plan.'.
§ Mr. Davies
The amendment seeks to target those who are in most need of assistance and whose quality of life is affected by the unfitness of the property in which they live.
I remind the House that the Bill breaks all the promises and assurances that the Government made, as recently as 1989, when they established the current mandatory grant system. It is true, of course, that the Government's refusal then to put their money where their mouth was has brought the grants system into disrepute, creating long waiting lists that local housing authorities find it impossible to meet.
The Bill takes away all hope, except for those who live in an area targeted as a specific renewal area by the local housing authority. It takes away all hope from those in the community whose properties are unfit. The Government have, in effect, abandoned the old, the sick and the disabled, by cutting the resources that the same Government made available a decade ago, and which they implied when they passed legislation in 1989 would continue to be made available. The Government have taken away hope from those people.
The amendment seeks to restore a little of that hope, and recognises that it is important that such individuals be specifically targeted for assistance.
§ Mr. Raynsford
Let me outline the purpose of amendments Nos. 102 and 103, and explain how they differ from amendment No. 5.
The amendments seek to ensure that, in the approval of grants, special attention is given to two separate factors: local housing renewal strategies developed by local authorities, and those who are subject to a duty under either the community care policy or local authority obligations under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
Unlike the Liberal Democrats, we do not seek to reinstate mandatory grants for certain categories of people, for reasons that I outlined in our earlier debate. I shall not go over that ground again. We do, however, believe that, in exercising their discretion, local authorities should pay special regard to certain factors. They should, for example, be encouraged to develop housing renewal strategies, and to focus attention on both particular areas and particular ways of responding to the need for renovation of older and sub-standard properties in their areas.
We regret the Government's lamentable failure to produce a coherent strategy for home renovation: they are dismantling the mandatory renovation grant framework without replacing it with a suitable alternative. All local authorities should, however, consider the need for renovation in their areas, and devise strategies to deal with 40 the problems. When they do so, they should have the opportunity to give proper weight to the force of those strategies when determining renovation grants.
In Committee, I raised questions about the extent to which local authorities would be free to do that. We queried whether a local authority could be challenged legally if it chose to give priority to, for instance, an applicant living in a renewal area, as against one living outside it, when assessing entitlement to a renovation grant. The point was that authorities would not be able to develop renewal area strategies if they felt nervous about legal action being taken because they had given preference to people within such areas.
At that time, the Minister undertook to reflect on the matter. On 4 June, as can be seen from column 125 of the Hansard Committee report, he agreed to reflect on those points in order to ensure that there was no risk of legal action, and, in a letter to me dated 28 June, he wrote that he hadasked officials to confirm with Parliamentary Counsel that the Bill as drafted contains the necessary powers"—that is, the powers that were necessary for local authorities to ensure that they could not be challenged for giving priority to an applicant in a renewal area.
I should be grateful if the Minister could assure us now that that is the case. If it is not, I hope that he will reflect further on the need for amendment No. 102. It would clearly be unsatisfactory if local authorities were inhibited from developing proper renewal strategies by the fear that they could not be implemented because of a risk of legal action.
Our second concern is covered by amendment No. 103, which deals with entitlement to assistance for people who are either the subject of duties under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act or receiving assistance under the care in the community policy. Both policies are important, affecting disabled people. It is right for authorities to consider the implication of their policy, and its possible impact on those with disabilities or special needs. There is an obvious case for putting into statute an obligation for local authorities to have regard to those wider responsibilities when considering how to discharge their responsibilities. I hope that the amendments commend themselves to the House and to the Minister.
§ Mrs. Maddock
I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies). Disabled people, those who care for them and people who have been trying to formulate community care plans in recent years, were extremely concerned when they saw that the Bill did not provide mandatory grants for disabled facilities. I should like to bring home to the Minister how strongly people feel about that.
I have an enormous number of elderly people in my constituency. I understand that a council division in my constituency has the highest number of over 85-year-olds in the country. Those people, those who care for them and the people who put together the community care plans are extremely worried.
The Government keep hiding behind their statement that they want to give discretion to local authorities. That is fine, but the amendment leaves that final discretion with those authorities. It states that the local authority must take into account local community care plans and 41 strategies. Without that, many elderly people will not get the priority that they need for adaptations and changes in their homes.
I hope that the Minister will think carefully about that. Many people outside are extremely concerned, and will be even more worried at the general election when they see what the Government have done. I hope that the Minister will have something favourable to say. I and other people have lobbied him on this matter, which is important to the most vulnerable people in society.
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I support amendments Nos. 102 and 103. I underline the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford): that, in Committee, the Minister undertook to reflect on numerous amendments, of which No. 102 was one. If I remember correctly, he was not initially impressed by the amendment, but when he had listened to the arguments, he saw its merits; hence his undertaking to reflect. I hope that that reflection has convinced him, and that he will accept the amendment.
The Government created the crisis in improvement grants, but they are now washing their hands and passing the problem to local authorities. When the Bill becomes law and local authorities are criticised and Ministers taken to task, they will tell the House, "It isn't our fault. People will need to go to their local authorities, because they have the power and the responsibility." I can already hear Ministers saying that.
Secondly, emphasis, onus and responsibility will plainly be placed on local authorities, and that makes it that much more important to have local authority strategies taken fully into account. In Committee, the Minister had a great deal to say about strategy, although whether we can detect Government strategy in the Bill is a matter that we will not debate. I accept that there has to be a strategy, and that, if it has to be developed at local level, as the Minister tried to convince us, so be it. It is better to have a strategy at local level than to have none at all, as seems to be the case with the Government.
Having impressed on local authorities, as the Minister did, the need to develop strategies, surely it cannot be right for him to give local authorities the opportunity to opt out of them. The Minister's arguments in Committee were that local strategies and discretion were important. I am not suggesting that authorities would want to opt out and ignore their strategies. However, if strategies are developed—the Minister says that they will have to be—not to include in the Bill a requirement for local authorities to take them into account when determining grant approvals is nonsense. I hope that the Minister has reflected positively on amendment No. 102.
One of the points we tried to make in Committee when considering the substance of amendment No. 3 was the importance of developing further the relationships between the responsibilities of social services committees and the application and approval of grants. I accept that much has been done, but that is not to say that enough has been done. The amendment is important, to show clearly the intention of the Government and the House to see that the good work that has been done is developed.
Time does not allow me to itemise the long list of improvements that would result if we addressed the issue of more co-ordination between the responsibilities and 42 duties placed on social services departments and house improvement grants. That is what the amendment seeks to do, and it would benefit the people who need these facilities and grants. More important, it would make better use of scarce resources. For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will accept amendments Nos. 102 and 103.
§ Mr. Clappison
I have listened carefully to the debate. In moving amendment No. 5, the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth got a little carried away in his evaluation of the new system. It would be wrong to suggest that housing need will not be met through these provisions. Of course it will be met through the discretionary grants, the mandatory disabled facilities grants and home repair assistance, which will be an improvement of an already popular scheme—the minor works assistance scheme. A great deal of assistance will be provided by all those schemes.
I do not want to go over old ground, but the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth knows that the scheme is a strategic one, and that the Bill's fundamental purpose is to replace the present system of mandatory grants with a discretionary grants system. The proposals in the amendment would cut across that, by specifying cases that should be treated as mandatory, while other cases that are equally worthy but are not spelt out in the Bill would be subject to discretion. The amendment would lead to the unsatisfactory halfway house of a discretionary and mandatory scheme. It would cut across important principles, and I am afraid that I cannot accept it.
Amendment No. 102 is important, and deals with renewal areas. In Committee, the hon. Member for Greenwich feared that local authorities might be open to challenge if they gave priority to grant applicants in renewal areas over those whose properties might be in the same poor condition but were not in a renewal area, where that was in accordance with a local renewal strategy.
My initial response in Committee was that the purpose of what we proposed was a strategic system. However, I have considered the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, and I am satisfied that the powers in clause 13(1) provide the scope for authorities to prioritise applications to achieve the aims of their renewal strategies. It can be argued that a permissive provision allowing local authorities to take local strategies into account is unnecessary, because in practice the general principle is that a local authority should take all relevant factors into account. Where it exists, a local renewal strategy must be such a matter.
§ Mr. Raynsford
I should like to press the Minister on this issue. Will he state categorically that it is his considered view that there is no risk whatever for a local authority in giving priority to applicants within renewal areas of facing a legal challenge from applicants living elsewhere whose housing needs might be equally pressing, or even more severe?
§ Mr. Clappison
Yes, we are satisfied that authorities will be able to prioritise applications to achieve the aims of their renewal strategies. If the amendment were accepted, inadvertently, there might be more of a risk of a challenge to local authorities. The amendment is not necessary. Authorities will be able to prioritise 43 applications to achieve the aims of their renewal strategies. That is the point that concerns the hon. Gentleman and we have met it.
Amendment No. 103 would require authorities, when deciding whether to approve an application for a renovation grant, to take into account the duties of the welfare authority under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. and the local community care plan. Again, it is important that, in prioritising demand for grants, authorities take into account the housing needs and circumstances of the most vulnerable groups, such as elderly and disabled people. In doing so, they will be able to take into account any care package for the applicant provided by the welfare authority under the community care legislation or, where appropriate, the duty of that authority to assist under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
The current guidance, which recommends effective consultation between housing and welfare authorities on the special housing needs of people in their regions, already enables housing authorities to take into account all the relevant factors in determining grant applications, including the prioritisation of cases for the available resources. Where the person needs help with adaptations and applies for a disabled facilities grant, there is already provision for consultation with the social services authority on the adaptation needs of the disabled person.
§ Mr. Stevenson
While he reflects on this point, will the Minister consider this relationship as it applies to care in the community, how the special transitional grant is used by local authorities in terms of providing the facilities for that care, and the interface between that grant and housing renovation grants?
§ Mr. Clappison
The two grants are entirely separate. I believe that the special transitional grant is a ring-fenced grant. The disabled facilities grant is certainly a ring-fenced grant within the overall grants systems. Obviously, it is important that the two systems should be viewed in conjunction as they deal with similar issues, but I emphasise that the two systems are separate. My point is that it is important that there should be effective and appropriate consultation between social service authorities and housing authorities, a subject that we discussed at length in Committee.
I do not believe, therefore, that the amendments are necessary.
Mr. William O'Brien
On the Minister's last point about the consultation between the local authority's social services department, which is responsible for the care in the community programme, and the housing authority, with the current structure in local government, those two departments can be attached to different authorities. For instance, Selby district council is responsible for housing and North Yorkshire county council is responsible for social services. Unless we accept amendment No. 103, unless we ensure that the two authorities do come together, and unless there is this protection for people in need of grant, disputes could develop. This afternoon, we can ensure that there are protections for people who need consideration by accepting amendment No. 103.
44 Subsection (6) of clause 13 states:In considering whether to approve an application for a renovation grant the authority shall have regard to the expected life of the building (taking account, where appropriate, of the effect of carrying out the works).If the Minister accepts amendment No. 103, that will tidy up that subsection. Therefore, amendment No. 103 is important because it crosses the borders of local authorities. We need to have a provision in the Bill that will protect people in need. Amendment No. 103 does that. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect on the issue.
§ Mr. Clappison
In response to that point, I have made it clear that we intend that there should be effective consultation between the housing and welfare authorities, whatever the structure of local government.
§ Mr. Chris Davies
The Minister says that needs will be met, but he is simply whistling in the wind in making such a statement because he and his Government do not allocate sufficient resources to meet those needs—they do not allocate a fraction of the resources that are required. Of course I support the general principle that expenditure should be concentrated in renewal areas, where appropriate, because that makes the best use of the money that is available, but, with present funding to local authorities, the problems of unfitness will not be dealt with in the lifetimes of even comparatively young people living in some of the older properties, let alone the lifetimes of some of the more elderly who live in unfit properties. The Government are abandoning pledges that they made only six years ago, when the existing legislation was put on the statute book. Although it may be inappropriate to divide the House, I do not wish to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.